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Iraq: UN weapons inspectors ready to return

Iraq: UN weapons inspectors ready to return whenever Security Council wants

Despite damage to their Baghdad monitoring centre, United Nations weapons inspectors would be able and ready to resume their search for banned weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at short notice if the Security Council so requests, according to the latest quarterly report on the issue.

In the months since they were withdrawn on the eve of the war in March, the inspectors have enhanced their skills and developed requirements for a new monitoring plan to fit post-war circumstances in the search for banned weapons programmes that ousted president Saddam Hussein might have pursued, the report to the Security Council says.

The report, submitted by the Acting Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), Demetrius Perricos, notes that until the deadly attack on the UN headquarters at the Canal Hotel last month, the inspectors' physical infrastructure had remained in operational condition.

It is now expected that the centre will not be useable for some time to come, and it remains to be determined whether it can be restored for operations or whether new premises will have to be found, according to the report, the 14th since UNMOVIC was set up in 1999.

"Apart from this, UNMOVIC would be able and ready to resume field operations in Iraq, including confirmation of any findings related to disarmament, at short notice if the Council so requests," it adds.

Noting that most essential equipment had earlier been withdrawn from Iraq and is being maintained in safe storage in the Larnaca, Cyprus, field office, the report states: "The Commission's core technical experts at Headquarters have had their skills and knowledge enhanced by their recent experience in the field, and international experts on the roster have largely indicated their continuing interest and availability to serve."

In the meantime, projects that UNMOVIC has continued include one aimed at charting what is known and understood of Iraq's programme of weapons of mass destruction, including staffing, financing and procurement.

In resolution 1483, adopted on 22 May after major hostilities ended, the Security Council left open the issue of the return of the inspectors, who had found no hard evidence of banned chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

The Council underlined its intention "to revisit the mandates" of UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The United States, which led the forces that ousted Saddam Hussein, said it would look for the weapons but has also not produced any hard evidence so far.

In his final report, outgoing UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix, cautioned against jumping to the conclusion that the weapons did exist just because they were unaccounted for or concluding that such programmes had ended in cases where the previous regime had not accounted for them.

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